Mason have updated their iconic Bokeh gravel bike with a host of tiny new details to enhance your riding and bikepacking experience and VecchioJo was lucky enough to sneak a first ride on one in Wales and chat to Mason mastermind Dom Mason about all the updates, and some other stuff, with a bit of mild ranting, which could be another article in itself.
The Bokeh broke cover back in 2016 when we saw it at Eurobike and Dom called it an AdventureSport bike because he wasn’t very impressed with the gravel word at the time. Since then he’s come to terms with it and the Bokeh has become a stalwart in the Mason range and been gradually improved upon. road.cc reviewed the second version in 2019 so some years later on it was probably due a tweak or two.
I live in the heart of Bokeh country, being only a few miles from the Mason HQ, and their bikes have a strong local following. To be fair, they’re a popular bike the country over, the world even, and you’d be hard pressed to attend any gravel event without seeing a few Bokehs aroundabouts.
The Bokeh 3.0 isn’t a new bike as such. Rather, it’s an existing frame full of little improvements and refined details (although the fork is brand new), added solely to help the rider, and I got to chat with Dom Mason about all of this. As Dom likes the difference that details can make (any Mason owner will stand testament), the planned quick 10 minute chat turned into an hour, and I got to ride the Mason Bokeh 3.0 to see what all this added up to.
The Bokeh was there in the first twinkle of the gravel eye and it’s not the first time Dom Mason has been a pioneer. Way back in 2011, we snuck a first ride on the Pro6 disc-specific cyclo-cross bike that Dom designed during his time at Kinesis when it was all cantilevers, and cycling forums still had a good few years of disc vs rim brakes argument to work through. Dom remembers how different, and limited things were as the new off-road Bokeh baby was still crawling about in the gravel and getting scabs on its knees…
“When we did the first Bokeh there was just about us and the Open UP,” says Dom. “We were both thinking along the same lines of road-inspired geometry for off-road and fast travel across multi-terrain and there were no gravel bike components
“I had to design my own wheels with Hunt [who are just up the road from Mason], and WTB had just come out with a 47mm 650b tyre. Loads of the first Bokehs we sent out had those WTB tyres on and it was a slick with some side knobs and we were using a Panaracer Comet MTB tyre which was basically a summer mountain bike 650b tyre because we couldn’t get anything else with a tread on, which is wild as it was only eight years ago.
“Bikes went out with normal drop bars because there weren’t any flared bars and a lot of them went out with 2x Shiman o Ultegra and then SRAM was the first to bring in 1x. On our first bikes we were doing disc brakes and people were saying, ‘Are you going to do calliper brakes?’ And we were like: ‘No, how does that help?’”
“Disc brakes really help off-road bikes because they open up all the clearances. You don’t need to worry about bridges and where they are and trying to grab rims round big chunky tyres and stuff like that. Then 1x opened up loads of opportunities for chainstay clearance and bigger tyres and you still had the gear range you needed.”
Mason don’t believe in model years like some other bike brands and prefer to keep development organic and as necessary. They instead believe very much in their “Ride Driven Design” guidance.
Luckily, they can rely on feedback from a flock of devoted customers and their supported riders such as Angus Young (Pan Celtic 1st, Highland Trail 550 1st, European Divide fastest known time, GBDuro), Josh Ibbett (Transcontinental 1st, GBDuro 1st, Italy Divide 1st, Tour Divide) and Philippa Battye (GBDuro 1st Woman/6th Overall, Highland Trail 550, Further Pyrenees, Further East, Dorset Divide) putting in some serious miles and pushing (sometimes literally) their bikes to the limit to provide invaluable critique and thoughts.
This depth of knowledge of gravel riding and bikepacking has informed their frame design and innovation and has been more important than following what other manufacturers are doing or just responding to what the latest fashion might be.
“I think it works to be in touch with what people want and the type of riding they want to do and give them something to enhance their riding – rather than saying that we’re putting cables through the headset and that they need that,” says Dom.
“We don’t do model years because model years are a nightmare for everybody. It’s just marketing. Our ‘Ride Driven Design’ is still my guiding thing. If it’s not going to make the riding better, not going to make it more practical, more fun or feel better – or just be better for riding – then we’re not going to do it.
“Nothing on this bike is for fashion… I mean, the colour is nice. Nothing on our bikes is ever going to be following fashion or done for marketing reasons. That’s a fundamental because it’s bullshit, it pisses me off. But the cycle industry, and a lot of other industries, run like that and it’s got a whole lot of us in trouble now. People have got containers and containers full of stuff because they’re used to changing it for a model year.
“We don’t do that because it’s pointless and so far it’s worked out and that’s what we stand by and we don’t do a wiggly fork… because wiggly… we’re not going to be doing that… That’s the crux for me: we’ll do it if there’s a real-world riding reason.
“I’m hardly ever looking at the competition. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I do look at riders and what they’re doing and our supported riders are super-important for us. I’m constantly looking at riding and riders and the scene and the races and things people are doing and thinking I want to make a bike for that, I want to make a bike for that person to do this on.
“I’m never really thinking what Canyon or Specialized or Scott are doing. I actually think maybe I should but I don’t know if that would work for me. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh shit, they’ve done that; why didn’t I think of that?’
“Mason has always been technology led. Disc brakes, big tyres, adaptable internal routing, thru axles – all that stuff has driven what we do. Tyre sizes, wheel sizes, 1x, dropper posts, flared bars – that’s all driven what we do. But I’m not looking at what other people do that much. I could end up just trying to chase what everyone else is doing instead of focusing on what I think is the right thing to do.”
Although it’s evolved over the years, the custom-formed Dedacciai aluminium tubed core of the Bokeh remains the same for the V3 but has a received a sprinkling of tweaks all over, all optimised for clearance and mounting accessories and carriers, but it does come with an all-new Mason RangeFinder•AS fork.
This third iteration of the Bokeh has six fluid and/or accessory mounting points including new mounting points for bolt-on top-tube bags for storing on-the-go snacks and any bits and bobs you might need to be easily accessible. These mounts, and the fender-mount snuck on the rear of the seat-tube, are now fully brazed for strength.
Staying with the same frame and just sweating the details ensures that the fast, light, agile and engaging ride quality of the Bokeh is still there, along with its durability, dependability and long-distance comfort.
“From the start we wanted to do these fast ground-covering gravel bikes which we called AdventureSport bikes because gravel didn’t really seem to sum up what we we were trying to do. Gravel didn’t mean much to people in the UK, it just meant something to the USA, because we don’t have massive long gravel tracks in a straight line, we have muddy bridlepaths instead.
“Our thing was all about clearance and as soon as 1x came in with disc brakes I was like ,’YESSSS’ because then we could instantly open up clearances on everything and have big tyres and not have mud rubbing away at stuff and clogging up. That really opened up bike design for us. Still at that point a 47mm tyre on 650b was big and everything 700c was going out of 35s. Then 1x came in and tyres started to get bigger.”
The way that the USA and the UK view gravel differently could be seen recently when competitors in the Unbound Gravel race in Kansas this year complained vociferously about a section of sticky peanut butter mud that clogged frames and ripped rear derailleurs off. Long distance spectators from the UK mildly scoffed at what just looked like a normal ride for most of the year.
The pair of bottle mounts inside the frame triangle are now mounted lower to create more room for frame bags and the bosses under the down tube have been moved lower and closer to the bottom bracket for more front tyre clearance when you bolt a bag in there. All mounting eyelets are now compression fitted and 3M bonded into the tubes to increase carrying capacity and durability and reduce possible dirt, salt and moisture ingress.
Tucked away discreetly underneath the top tube is new dynamo routing where the rear derailleur cable used to be on the older Bokeh. The new ports are tidily reinforced and allow you to run the dynamo light cable inside the frame in a direct line between front and rear lights. Staying with dynamos, the RangeFinder fork is internally routed for a cable from a dynamo hub to the crown mounting for a front light.
Heading towards the back of the bike, the new Mason dropouts are smoothly welded and blended into the frame tubes rather than being butt-welded as on the older frames. It looks a lot tidier as they blend into the elegantly curved BoatTail seatstays and is also said to reduce stress-raisers and increase durability, stiffness and power transfer at the rear, with a bit of added heel clearance too.
The new dropouts are forged and CNC machined for toughness and accuracy and the new derailleur hanger is designed to be a precise fit. The rack-mount eyelets are now deeper and fully threaded to resist damage, with the ability to add a lock nut to the rear for added security when putting a rack on.
The rear mech cable was externally routed down the seatstay with P-clips on previous Bokehs but, like the brake hose, it now runs fully inside the frame. This keeps it out of harm’s way and makes strapping on bags and accessory cages easier as you don’t have to fiddle straps around cables and bosses and they don’t get squashed.
The frame is easier to keep clean too. Those cables and hoses run through Mason’s proprietary Ø56mm ‘ThruBB’ shell (something they came up with before T47 existed) – a larger than normal BB shell that allows you to use a threaded bottom bracket (hooray) and route cables safely through the large internal space without interfering with the rotating bottom bracket gubbins. You can even fit a dropper post cable in there as well, if you want.
While we’re talking about cables, Mason don’t and never will run the hoses and cables through the headset bearings, as is the current fashion. While it might hide a short length of hose, it’s a right pain when it comes to trailside repairs and general maintenance. Home tinkers and shop mechanics rejoice.
The frame can still run the 650b x 55 [2.1in] or 700c x 45 wheel/tyre sizes as previously but the frame’s stays have been tweaked a bit for more clearance to accommodate any sticky gravel you might have to trudge through.
“Certainly, big adventures are exciting for people and they can see that kind of thing is possible and they’re seeing other people doing it,” says Dom. “Like with every progression in every sport, people are starting from a much higher level. Now if you start skateboarding or surfing or motocross you’re starting from some insane level. It’s just assumed that you start by doing that crazy stuff.
“Now in gravel, you’ll get people thinking, ‘I’m going to get a gravel bike and I’m going to ride all the way down Europe,” or “I’m going to do some 300km day rides.” That’s not a starting point, but conceivably 150km a day, and actually people quite quickly get a lot better than they thought they would get and they can ride further than they thought.
“The racing thing is going to continue because it’s interesting and it’s based on something real, isn’t it? But there are people we support who are never going to win a race. We don’t want them to win a race. I don’t care about podiums, to be honest. Seeing what they do and where they go is more important, like Claire [Frecknall] and Lisa [Pfeiffer]. It’s really nice to say that Angus won the Highland Trail, it’s great for the brand and it makes people look at us but it’s not our focus.”
While the new frame is all about optimising details, the Bokeh 3.0 comes with an all new Rangefinder•AS fork. Unique to Mason, it’s been designed from the ground up to work perfectly with their frames. With a new shape, carbon layup and accessory mount layout, the RangeFinder•AS is custom-tuned for larger tyres, more clearance and comfortable multi-terrain, load-carrying potential.
The flat calliper mount is designed for a 160/180 disc rotor, uprated from 140/160 on the Bokeh 2. With the added weight of a bike with heavy bikepacking bags bouncing over rugged terrain, Dom reckons the extra braking power of a larger disc will come in useful.
“Developing the new fork has opened up stuff,” says Dom. “The fork is one of the hardest bits to do and then you can design the frame off the back of that. This opens up the opportunity to do bigger clearance if we wanted to do a bigger clearance titanium or aluminium road frame like a Definition Plus or Aspect Plus. We’ve seen bigger tyres just becoming natural and a 35 appears normal because it’s good for where were ride.”
Triple-bolt accessory mounts pimple each leg and each eyelet is static tested to 30kg vertical loading, although Mason rate them to a more realistic 3kg per side to cope with fork mounted cages and loaded bike bags, which amounts to a fair amount of kit. The bosses are also optimised for lo-rider/front-carrier mounts and rondo racks.
The fork has new F-Stop replaceable dropouts. The 12mm diameter SwitchLever Thru-axle has a removable lightweight handle to allow use for both front and rear axles for added security and a clean look.
You can’t see it here but new ‘CarbonRace’ technology does away with the need for a separate crown race, removing a 90º angle at the highest stress point on the fork steerer, giving increases in strength and reliability and even more precise steering. This technology also ensures fork/frame fit is always 100% accurate which helps extend bearing life. What you can see is that the fork crown now blends perfectly into the tapered head-tube which is aesthetically pleasing. There is no need to use special tools to press-fit the crown either.
Having Dom point out all the Bokeh’s changes, tweaks and subtle details and talk quite emotionally about them, it’s incredibly obvious that he spends a lot of time thinking about things.
“I’m always a bit controversial and outspoken about stuff, and really cynical as well,” he says. “I hate following people so that must have shaped what I do somehow, hopefully for the better. It would be so easy just to follow what everyone else was doing. One, I’ve got an aversion to it, I always run in the other direction if people are going over there. And two, I hate bullshitting. I’ve always hated that part of the bicycle industry.”
There follows some “and another thing” ranting about some recent bike products that we probably can’t mention for legal reasons and some passioned words about global companies bloodsucking on whatever the latest scene is and making as much money as possible before that scene fades away.
“I’ve always wanted to support riders,” says Dom. “That’s become a thing that I love doing because… I can. We support all those riders because they’re our friends first and foremost and I love seeing what people do on my bikes. Josh and Angus winning and Naomi doing the South Downs Way Double and getting the fastest known time (FKT) is amazing so I support them for that, maybe selfishly for me because it drags me forward.
“Maybe coming from skateboarding a little bit, I’ve seen that you have to support the thing that you’re part of. Well, you don’t have to, but otherwise, what are you doing it for? If you’re part of this thing and making these bikes for people doing this thing you should support it somehow.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. We support rides and we’re starting to give back and do events and help the local gravel group so hopefully we’re respected for that. That’s just part of what I think we should do as part of a moral, sustainable bike company otherwise gravel’s gone, what’s the next thing? This will hopefully keep us going, keep me going, because it’s fucking hard. The last three years have been mega hard and it continues to be hard.”
It’s easy to see how much the Bokeh has evolved intelligently since its early days as the genre of gravel has expanded and changed and Dom has listened to the needs of his riders. As someone who’s done enough gravel and bikepacking miles, all of what he’s done makes a lot of sense when it comes to the practicalities of this sort of riding. Just looking at the details on the bike and hearing the thought process behind them makes it easy to consider handing over money.
“There’s the fast-gravel thing, there’s the just-bombing-around thing, there’s the bikepacking thing, there’s the ultra-endurance bikepacking race thing and then there’s people who are going off for months of adventure,” says Dom. “We’re now designing bikes to take more load with more clearance and more attachment points – and more durability – but we’ve kept the geometry and tubing on this one the same because it’s supposed to be fast and light and racy and quick.
“Tyre sizes have got bigger, so 2.35in is in my mind maximum for a gravel bike otherwise you should get a mountain bike and a 50mm 700c tyre is becoming more and more normal, because it’s still quite fast, you don’t need suspension, you can run it at low pressures and it’s super grippy.
“People discovered off-road and then they realised they wanted to go a bit more off-road and wanted to go away longer and load the bike up more, so the latest Mason Exposure bike is for that, with more clearance, bigger tyres than this, slacker geometry, a taller head tube, even more attachment points, and it’s steel.
“Rather than do that to the Bokeh, the idea is that we keep this one doing what it does best and we make another bike to go further and deeper and rougher and away for longer and loaded up more. When you go through it like an evolution, you can see how it’s all changed and now we’re seeing ultra endurance off-road races on mountain bikes more. A lot of the off-road races have just got bigger and rougher and steeper and people have got into going off-road on a gravel bike but they can’t do drop offs and miles and miles and miles of stutter bumps so some races you need a mountain bike.”
I rode the Mason Bokeh 3.0 in Wales for a couple of days over every type of terrain that you might roll a gravel bike: grassland, bumpy field-edge, moorland, fire road, broken tarmac, loamy singletrack, rocky stuff, gulleyed paths, dark holloways, grass-up-the-middle lanes, and even some actual gravel. It was the Campagnolo Ekar groupset variant with 650b wheels shod with 2.1 Vittoria Mezcal tyres.
It’s an amazingly capable machine and didn’t baulk at anything in its way, even the stuff that was quite ‘mountain bikey’ – certainly helped by the bigger tyres that were considered a normal cross-country width not that long ago.
The best way to describe the ride of the new Bokeh is supple. The 2.1in tyres are responsible for a large amount of the feel but there’s a very delicate softness to the rest of the bike that helps plane the edge off bumps and lumps.
It’s pleasingly encouraging up hills and, even with fat tyres on, it doesn’t feel draggy. I did a lot of draggy Welsh climbs on it just to check.
Steering is very snappy and involving – which is handy when needing to respond quickly to any decisions that had to be made on moorland tracks where the sunken and twisty path was partially hidden by heather – but that doesn’t mean that it’s too nervous and tiring for just chunking out the miles when you have distance to cover and another long section of fire road up the valley.
It’s well-mannered, both naked and with bags on, but if you want to give it a bit of hip shimmy to counteract the slip-slide over some Welsh slate, for example, it responds in kind with a little bit of a playful whoop, so it can be a fun bike too.
“Whether you want to stay away for the night, go down the whole of France, get from one side of Italy to the other as fast as possible, ride the Tour Divide, or just ride over there, it’s super diverse and we make bikes that work for all that stuff,” says Dom.
“I find it super-hard to do this thing so if I didn’t believe in it I wouldn’t have got this far. The nice thing is that I can believe in what I’m doing. There are some good adventures out there and good people doing this type of riding and it’s got a real substance to it… People write to me and say what they’ve done on our bikes and I thank them for writing because that’s probably the main reason why I do this. I designed this and I want to see what people do with it, and it’s almost as simple as that.”
Specs and prices
The original and much loved FlareOrange colour remains for the Bokeh 3.0. It’s almost its signature colour, but it will also be available in SensorBlue – carried over from the Mason RAW MTB hardtail – and a totally new Sepia shade.
Prices for the Bokeh 3.0 are £1,450 for the frameset, £3,280 for the Shimano GRX 1x version, with GRX Di2 (electronic shifting) for £4,100. GRX 2x is £3,320 with mechanical shifting and £4,300 with Di2.
SRAM versions are Rival XPLR at £3,550 and Force XPLR for £4,100.
A Campagnolo Ekar build is £3,655.